A first time visitor to the Netherlands would notice how the liberal features of the lower country make her stand out like a dwarf stands out among the Dutch. Civil liberties, natural rights (life, individual freedom and property), proper checks and balances (Trias Politica), the rule of law, a welfare state, among others are a conglomeration of ideas that act as the pillars upon which the liberal Dutch society is built.
Right from the days of Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, these liberal ideas have not only been the foundation of present-day Dutch politics, but they are also ideas and philosophies that helped the government come to perceive the populace and not the state as sovereign. From the crowded Red Light Districts, Gothic churches that now serve as nightclubs to fully packed coffee shops, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, a large atheist population, quality and affordable healthcare and anti-gun laws, the Netherlands have built a reputation as both a liberal and an egalitarian society. But why are Americans of Dutch descent very different from the Dutch? Why are they so conservative that some of the aforementioned attributes of the liberal Netherlands sound both strange and foreign to them?
Before we look into that, firstly, who are Dutch-Americans?
Dutch Americans are a group of people in the United States from the Netherlands or of Dutch descent. The Dutch were one of the first groups of European immigrants who settled in the New World. The Netherlands started building settlements on the American east coast in 1613 and some of these villages would later grow into cities of which New York (founded as New Amsterdam by the Dutch) is the most famous one.
The first Dutch settlers lived in small isolated communities and at first, were hardly exposed to other early settlers like the French, Irish or the English. Gradually they came into contact with English-speaking people and Dutch stopped being the communal language. From 1764 onwards, the preachers in the Dutch Reformed Church in New York would start preaching in English instead of Dutch. Ten years later, English would be introduced as the official language in New York schools.
Today, most Dutch-Americans live in the states of Michigan, California, Montana, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Idaho, Utah, Iowa, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Lots of New York districts have a Dutch origin, such as Brooklyn (Breukelen), Staten Island (States-General), Harlem (Haarlem), Coney Island (Konijn Island) and Flushing (Vlissingen). The State of Michigan is also home to Holland, a small and largely Dutch-American town.
Holland, Michigan is where US Dutch-American politicians like Pete Hoekstra and Betsy de Vos hail from. They are government officials in Trump’s Republican-led government and Betsy de Vos’ family is known to have a long history of financing and sponsoring the Republican party and their conservative views and policies. Pete Hoekstra famously angered the Dutch when he baselessly claimed in 2015, that politicians in the Netherlands were “being burned” by radical Muslims and when a Dutch reporter in Washington asked him what he meant by that, he claimed that it was all fake news. Just like Betsy de Vos, Hoekstra is among many Dutch-Americans who are staunchly conservative, anti-immigrant, devoutly religious (mostly Protestant) and overwhelmingly Republican. These Dutch-Americans are largely concentrated in North-Western Iowa and South-Western Michigan.
So Why Are these Dutch-Americans Very Different from the Dutch in the Netherlands?
Conservative Dutch-Americans do not believe in a welfare state because they strongly believe that the first Dutch settlers made a comfortable life for themselves through nothing but hard work. They do not agree with same-sex marriage because, according to the Bible, homosexuality is a sin and marriage should only be between a man and a woman. They are all ‘anti-abortion’ because, according to them, it is murder – and no medical/scientific fact can ever change their minds.
There have been many theories as to why Dutch-Americans are so conservative but just a few of these theories make sense. The most commonly held view is that they are raised in the traditional way of life set up by the early Dutch settlers. These early settlers were very conservative and made sure their offsprings were brought up in the same way. They lived in small isolated communities and due to their conservative way of life, refused to mix with or be exposed to other “worldly” people and their non-Biblical ways. They were traditionalists, averse to change and believed that nothing but hard work (not handouts from the government) led to prosperity. Although Dutch-Americans and the Dutch (in the Netherlands) share a wonderful work ethic and Dutch Calvinist values, Dutch-Americans’ love for tradition, as well as religiosity, have played a huge role in creating the differences we see today.
Highly conservative Dutch-Americans believe in the authority of the church, the power of the government (when in conservative hands) and a strong sense of family togetherness. To them, being conservative is a way of showing loyalty to family and to their country. This is the main reason why they jealously guard their borders because all “illegal aliens” are seen as threats to their families. Due to their allegiance to the church, they live according to what they interpret as the ‘rules of the Bible’ and also expect all Americans to do the same. Dutch-Americans have always vocally and financially supported the Republican party and are currently staunch supporters of Donald Trump. A lot of them see him as the answer to their prayers, which honestly surprises a majority of Dutch folks here in the Netherlands because Trump isn’t the ideal example of a ‘traditional’ or ‘religious’ conservative. Furthermore, Betsy de Vos has been appointed the minister of education. She is a strong proponent of Christian private schools and the education sector adopting a more conservative approach to running American schools.
While firmly clutching to the traditional values and norms of the first Dutch settlers could be a valid reason for the conservative nature of Dutch-Americans, a few more reasons are stated below:
Donald Trump had only been President of the United States for less than a week and had immediately signed an executive order for a ban on seven Muslim countries. Later on, the borders were closed to people from Yemen, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Libya for three months. According to Trump, it was a new way of preventing radical Muslims from coming to America. Many Dutch-Americans who see Muslims as a threat to their way of life were fully behind this decision.
Views on Abortion and Contraception
In exchange for a large number of votes from conservatives, many of whom were Dutch-Americans, Trump and his Republican party have adhered to a very Christian and conservative policy when it comes to contraception and abortion. Trump has been working to stop government funding for abortion clinics, even with considerable resistance from Democrats in the Senate and in Congress. This is one of the major reasons why Dutch-Americans oppose liberal ideas and refer to the Democrats as ‘baby killers’ while supporting Republican policies with great enthusiasm.
Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel
Dutch-Americans are very religious and as such, overwhelmingly pro-Israel. They believe that Jerusalem should be the capital of the Israeli nation and this is a view they stubbornly share with the Republicans. Former US President, Barack Obama was quite vocal on how he felt about Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He also opposed Israel’s use of excessive force against the Palestinians. His vocal opposition led to a strained relationship between the US and Israel during his tenure and this wasn’t well received in the conservative camp. Donald Trump announcing that he was moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because he recognises Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel made a lot of conservative Dutch-Americans happy. They believe that Trump is fulfilling the Biblical prophecy that Jerusalem will once again be in the hands of Israel.
One of Trump’s biggest election promises was to build a “YUGE” wall between America and Mexico. He also promised that the Mexicans would pay for the wall. This was a welcomed development by the anti-immigration Dutch-American community who felt that the border with Mexico had to be brought under control. The US government was shut down by Trump because he has so far failed in getting the funds he needs for his wall.
There are various reasons why Americans of Dutch descent are very conservative while the Dutch (in the Netherlands) are known for being liberal. The main reason is that they have succeeded in firmly holding on to the traditional ways of life passed down from the early Dutch settlers who left the Netherlands to seek a better life in the colonies.
Today, they live according to the traditional rules they’ve inherited and are fiercely loyal to their faith, families, country and the conservative way of life. America’s Left thinks that the country is threatened because her citizens are losing jobs, their income and economic security, and on the Right, conservatives, many of whom are Dutch-Americans believe that the country is under attack because her beliefs, morality and security are under threat from forces both foreign and domestic. Forces like Muslims, non-white immigrants (legal and illegal), the LGBTQ+ community and ideas such as abortion, common sense gun laws, legalisation of marijuana and Universal Health Care.
Whatever you believe, one has to agree that a Betsy de Vos type of politician would definitely stand out as ‘odd’ here in the Netherlands while a Geert Wilders type would have no problem adjusting to life in the US conservative and Republican camp. In fact, Geert Wilders would be welcomed with open arms, and that’s quite funny, considering the fact that no Dutch political party wants to work or form a coalition with his party.
Any thoughts? Drop them in the comments!